Thursday, June 4, 2009

Understanding Script Feedback: (part 2 of 3)


Movies are not made of words. Movies are made of action, images, and sound. But unfortunately and out of necessity, scripts MUST be made of words. And this can often be the source of many problems.

Do you remember those old analog cassette tapes? You would put them in a tape player, hit the PLAY button, and you would hear the music. But any idiot knows that there is no actual music inside the cassettes. All there is inside them is a spool of plastic ribbon coated with some sort of magnetic-sensitive material. But on the ribbon is an ANALOG of the music.

Here's how the recording process worked: The sound waves of the original music would enter a microphone. The movement of the sound waves would create an electrical signal in the microphone, which would then be converted into an analogous magnetic pattern in the recording device. (“analog” refers to the process of transcribing the sound into an analogy of the original, but a different form.) The magnetic pattern is then recorded on the magnet-sensitive tape ribbon.

When one puts the tape into their home stereo, the transcription is reversed. The stereo reads the magnetic pattern, converts it into an electrical signal, which then comes out of the speakers and to our ears as sound waves equal to the original sound.

A movie script works in the same way. Screenwriters have a unique and somewhat more difficult place in the creative world compared to other artists. Screenwriters originate their artistic ideas, but are not allowed to deliver their ideas in their finished forms. Their duty is to take the actions, images, and sounds that exist in the movie in their heads and somehow transcribe it into written words. Plain, average words to be printed on paper. A script is something like a permanent storage device for a potential movie, just as a cassette tape permanently stores music. When someone reads that script, hopefully the transcription will be reversed – the writers words will create the actions, images, and sounds in the reader's mind exactly as the writer had originally imagined them.

But unfortunately, this does not always happen. Things get mucked up along the way. Sometimes your attempt at transcription does not work the way you want it to, and the communication between writer and reader fails. To you, your original ideas seem clear, strong, and effective. But to the listener of your recording (the reader) it can come out as a garbled mess.

There are two possible reasons why the reader might find fault with the script, the “movie analog” he/she has in front of them. Understanding which one is at fault will help you get your script into the rewrite phase and on the appropriate road to recovery much faster.

The first cause could be that your original ideas were been flawed to begin with. Your concept is unoriginal and lacks conflict, or you have not bothered to develop your characters enough, or your plot structure is weak or nonexistant, etc, etc. In this case, the flaws in your script come directly from you the writer. You need to rethink some things, throw some things out, and come up with some altogather new ideas. An audio engineer would refer to this as “Garbage In/Garbage Out”. This they mean that the finished recording is bad because the original source material was bad. No matter how much one tries to “tweak it in the re-recording” if the original recording was bad, there is little one can do from having a terrible-sounding finished product.

The second cause could be called “Transcription Error”. This means that your original ideas – your source material – may have been good, original, and well thought out, but the fault lies in how you chose to communicate them- how your ideas have been literally put on paper. This is just like a sound engineer who has good source sound, but screws things up in the recording phase. Whenever a writer seems confused about your script, has failed to recognize a concept that you believe is clear and obvious, any time you see an element one way and the reader seems to see it in a completely different fashion, this is due to a transcription error. You have failed to clearly communicate your ideas to the reader by the way you have chosen to record your story – in words – on paper. Possible reasons for transcription error could be you failed to provide enough important information, or it could be that you may have put information into your script but it was not communicated in a strong enough fashion that the reader would easily grasp it, or perhaps you included it in a sea of meaningless details, choking out its importance. It might be that your skills for writing action and description are poor, creating confusion and slowing down your scenes.

But, most times it is not clear at first which is at fault in your writing – the original material or your method of communicating it. To interpret the cause, we must follow Rule #3:

(On to Part III)

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